SPCA New Zealand

Pet owners reminded not to leave animals out in the cold

06 June 2023

SPCA is reminding pet owners to make sure they’re providing their animals with enough warmth, food and shelter, as wintry weather rolls across the country.

Pet owners reminded not to leave animals out in the cold

SPCA is reminding pet owners to make sure they’re providing their animals with enough warmth, food and shelter, as wintry weather rolls across the country.

Just like humans, animals feel the cold and can suffer numerous health conditions if they’re not provided with a warm and dry environment. During the cooler months, it’s important to provide your pets with extra shelter, more blankets and access to clean water that won’t freeze.

SPCA Scientific Officer Dr Alison Vaughan says it’s especially important to make sure the needs of older pets are met, as many suffer from conditions such as arthritis which may cause them to struggle during winter. If your pet is suffering from arthritis, you may notice they’re slow to get up or have reduced mobility. If this is the case, you should take your pet to a veterinarian for a check-up. Short-haired animals, young animals and those with underlying health issues may also need extra warmth.

“Just as you might rug up with a jumper, beanie and scarf in the cold weather, your pets need extra protection from winter’s elements as well,” says Dr Vaughan. “If your dog is outside during the day while you’re at work, make sure they have a shelter or kennel that is well insulated and doesn’t have any gaps where drafts may come through. You should also give them extra blankets that are changed regularly to ensure they are dry and cosy.”

Cats love to be warm so make sure they have a comfortable space they can curl up in such as an igloo bed. While outdoor rabbit or guinea pig owners should make sure to have a spacious indoor enclosure for them to sleep in at night or in wintry weather such as snow, frost or storms. Rabbits snuggle with each other to stay warm so it is important for rabbits to be kept in desexed bonded pairs as otherwise they can be lonely and very vulnerable to the cold.

“Well-fitted winter coats or jumpers are also great for keeping your dog warm, but just remember not all dogs like to wear clothing so if your furry friend shows signs of irritability or trying to remove the coat or jumper, it’s best to take it off,” says Dr Vaughan.

Pet-safe heat pads are another great way to keep pets warm, as long as they’re safe and working properly. Owners should never leave heating pads on when they’re not at home, and always ensure the animal can move away from the pad if they want to.

It’s also okay to feed outdoor pets a little extra during winter, because their bodies burn more energy as they try to keep warm.

“Just like humans often comfort eat during winter, it’s okay for these pets to indulge a little more than usual during the cold months. Just make sure they stick to a healthy diet and aren’t overfed,” says Dr Vaughan.

Finally, it’s important to continue exercising dogs throughout winter, no matter how cold or wet the weather might be.

“We all know how hard it can be to find the motivation to exercise when it’s cold and wet outside, but it’s so important for your dog’s health and wellbeing to have mental and physical exercise every day,” says Dr Vaughan. “Most dogs should have at least an hour of exercise every day. It’s not only beneficial for your pet, but it can also help humans fight the winter blues.”

If it’s particularly stormy and going outside just isn’t an option, there are lots of great enrichment activities pet owners can set up indoors to keep their animals entertained, such as puzzle feeders or searching for hidden treats or toys.

Top tips for taking care of your pet this winter:

  • If your pet lives indoors, make sure they have a warm area to sleep that is elevated from the cold floor and away from any draughts.
  • If your pet lives outdoors, it’s essential they have shelter that is well insulated, warm, waterproof and windproof.
  • When out walking your dog, reflective collars, leashes or tags are all great ways to help motorists see you during dark winter days.
  • Make sure your pet always has access to clean, fresh water that will not freeze.
  • For indoor/outdoor cats, bring them in before it gets dark and have a warm space indoors such as an igloo bed or pet-safe heated pad.
  • Cats that are not on special feeding regimes should have food available at all times, especially in winter because they like to ‘snack’ at regular intervals during the day.
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